OLLI Welcomes New Executive Director, Makes Plans for Expansion

By Rachel Anna Neff, Ph.D.

UTEP News Service

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, or OLLI, welcomed Ian Wilson as its new executive director in May 2014. Today, Wilson is preparing for his first fall semester running the institute that offers classes to El Paso-area adults 50 and older.

Wilson came to El Paso four years ago. Two years ago, he began taking OLLI classes. Growing up speaking Portuguese in Brazil, he was drawn to the language options the program provided. This year, a new opportunity presented itself to him.

Ian Wilson was named the new executive director of OLLI in May 2014. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News Service.
Ian Wilson was named the new executive director of OLLI in May 2014. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News Service.

“I was looking for something to dip my toes back into the working world,” Wilson said. “I saw the memo that OLLI was looking for a new executive director and after being a student at OLLI, I felt this was a perfect fit.”

The OLLI program began in the late 1980s as the Center for Lifelong Learning, and in 2005 it became the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, thanks first to a grant and later to an endowment from The Bernard Osher Foundation.

OLLI is known as “the school for your second 50 years,” where participants ages 50 and older can come and meet new people while engaging in learning, activities and lively discussions. The program does not require any prior academic credentials and the classes have no homework or exams. 

“We are honored to be one of the nation’s universities with an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute,” said Patricia D. Witherspoon, Ph.D., dean of the College of Liberal Arts and board member at-large for OLLI. “It stands as a testament to those in our community who value lifelong education and who enroll in courses that have come to be valued as contributions to the community and its citizens.

“We are very happy to welcome Ian Wilson as OLLI’s new director. His experience and expertise, and his professionalism, already have established his reputation as a valued colleague.”

Many of OLLI’s instructors are current or retired UTEP faculty.

“We’re always looking for UTEP faculty to start new classes on different topics,” Wilson said. “We have a form on our website for potential OLLI instructors to propose courses.”

Wilson has planned fresh initiatives to expand the number and types of classes offered each semester in order to meet the growing needs and interests of the community and to encourage new members to join.

“We have lofty goals: double the number of members, have more classes here (at UTEP) and at other sites, and to expand to East El Paso,” Wilson said.

He also hopes to create more excitement for the OLLI program within the bilingual and bicultural population of the region by offering courses taught entirely in Spanish in subject areas such as literature and history as early as spring 2015.

In order to build community between the members outside of classes, Wilson plans to organize and offer activities like field trips and social events to members. The first stage of this plan was implemented Wednesday, Aug. 13, with a back-to-school bash held at OLLI’s office in Miners Hall, Suite 209.

During the bash, OLLI members brought treats to share, caught up with old friends and made new ones, and played some card games.

Proposed social events like the back-to-school bash include meeting at Einstein’s Bagels on campus and going to local eateries around El Paso so members can get together and have a good time.

A lifetime membership to OLLI is $25. Enrollment is $60 for as many courses as desired during the six-week semester and includes a parking permit for the Sun Bowl Parking Garage. Some individual courses have an additional enrollment fee. The registration deadline of Friday, Aug. 29 is strict because OLLI wishes to ensure classes have sufficient interest to be offered. Registration after Aug. 29 will incur a $25 late fee.

Enrolled members receive an identification card entitling them to reduced admission fees for UTEP theater and music events, and members may acquire a University Library Community User Card valid for the semester. Members who enroll by Tuesday, Aug. 26, will receive their schedule and parking permit in the mail.

Some of the fall’s course offerings include “Not Your Grandmas’ Crochet,” where participants will create six unique, crocheted gifts; “Longevity Breathing,” which will explore practical methods for beneficial breathing patterns; “Extraordinary Women in Literature and Cinema” that covers the biographies of the Bronte sisters, Agatha Christie, Frida Kahlo and Vivien Leigh alongside beautiful movies; Spanish and Italian classes; photography; and “Writing Your Memoirs.”

A few classes have already filled up, but if there is enough interest, OLLI may be able to offer them during the spring semester.

When asked what fall OLLI class he was most looking forward to taking this fall, Wilson answered, “We’re offering Italian for the first time, and after taking Spanish and French (through OLLI), I can’t wait to try out Italian. These really are fantastic classes.”

For more information about OLLI or to become an OLLI member:

Phone: 915-747-6280 or 915-747-8848

In Person: Visit Miners Hall, Suite 209, 1-5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Park for free at the Sun Bowl Garage Visitor’s Area by bringing in the parking stub for validation.

Mail: Write to OLLI at UTEP, Miners Hall Suite 209, 500 W. University Ave., El Paso, TX 79968

Online: Visit OLLI’s website at www.olliatutep.org. The fall 2014 catalog is currently available online.